Album Reviews

Various – Trans Slovenia Express Vol 2

(Mute) UK release date: 25 July 2005

In 1994, a job lot of Kraftwerk covers by Slovene artists was released under the banner Trans Slovenia Express. For no especially obvious reason, eleven years along Volume 2 clatters toward us, again collecting together Slovene musicians new and not so new, headlined by grizzled veterans Laibach.

Much has happened to Slovenia in the intervening years. From finding itself on the edge of Europe’s bloodiest conflict since WWII as Yugoslavia disintegrated, to joining the European Union last year and seeing capital Ljubljana transformed from provincial backwater to chic destination, Slovenia’s political progress has been colourful to say the least.

But what about its musicians? Volume 2 is able to showcase the various styles of Slovenia’s artists but, being a covers album, it of course does little to bring their own music to a wider audience. Presumably the hope is to pique the interest of Europe’s record buying public, who may just care to throw a few euros at the former eastern bloc creatives after hearing them reinterpret Germanic electronica?

But just how many musical styles can you get out of music created 30-odd years ago by four enigmatic Düsseldorfian automatons with a penchant for cycling and circuit boards?

Several, it would seem. Perhaps surprisingly, not everything on Volume 2 is exclusively electronic. Each of the acts to a greater or lesser degree extract nuances from Kraftwerk’s inherently solid music structures, and some succeed in making the chiefly post-Autobahn material their own.

Thus it is that we have the datedly camp trance of Sex Object, iTurk‘s collaboration with Maya (whose warbles over The Tamperer‘s disco-happy Feel It included the memorable line: “What’s she gonna look like with a chimney on her?”) juxtaposed with Laibach’s take on Bruderschaft, a track that feels more like it’s by Kraftwerk than almost anything here. Also playing it safe are The Stroj, whose version of Metal On Metal seems to sample the original.

Some tracks proved more popular than others. We get two versions of Hall Of Mirrors – Silence and Anne Clark‘s take is eerily spacious, but offers little that couldn’t be gleaned from a listen to the original, and Clark happens to be English rather than Slovene. Lara B‘s take is more distinctive, coming across as a Skin-like power piece that does its best to be industrial rock. Metropolis also appears in two differing guises from OST – hyperactive hard house – and Sequan – symphonic eurodance with a dramatic feel.

There’s a lull in the middle of the record as Octex and Torul employ repetitive loops and cosy beats to lull the listener to slumber, and Moob‘s Telephone Call grates like the unwanted advance of a double glazing salesman, but Rozmarinke provide a wake-up call with Radioactivity, complete with cello, pizzicato violin and piano over breakbeats and loops. It’s the best cover of one of Kraftwerk’s finest pieces since The Divine Comedy‘s epic take back in the late ’90s.

Also noteworthy is the distinctively Balkan Bast‘s version of Mitternacht, which could readily soundtrack scenes in a horror movie and is decidedly inventive with the region’s instruments on its way to a surprisingly jazzy conclusion.

Trans Slovenia Express Volume 2 is a curious thing – seemingly without purpose, it gives artists the chance to express themselves within the confines of a cover version structure, and reminds the largely inattentive world at large that Slovenes make music. Kraftwerk obsessives might find it a curiosity worthy of a spin or two, but it’s difficult to see where else this pitches to.

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